Balancing the Grind with Jacques Markgraaff, Chief Operating Officer at LAVO

Jacques Markgraaff is the Chief Operating Officer at LAVO, a clean energy technology company and pioneer of long duration energy storage and automated asset management solutions. 

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1) To kick things off, could you tell us a little about your career background and current role?

I spent the first 12 years of my career in the management consulting industry working in South Africa, Europe, and Australasia. This was followed by a further decade in various commercial and strategy roles across the financial services and consumer goods industry in Australia.

My role is as Chief Operating Officer (COO) for a scale-up company called LAVO. LAVO is a clean energy storage and digital solutions company. Our proprietary hybrid technology combines the benefits of hydrogen and traditional storage to offer a full energy storage solution to our customers that is safe, affordable and sustainable.

We exist to empower the world with limitless energy enabling more sustainable businesses and planet while driving meaningful change in the energy market. In my role as COO, I have the fortune to work across the company value chain, from R&D and product development through to commercialisation and corporate development together with various support functions.

2) What does a day in your life look like for you? Can you take us through a recent workday?

My day usually starts with a double pod shot of coffee relatively early around 06:30. I then spend c.30 min meditating while listening to music, and if summer, catching the early morning rays in the garden, before the kids get up!

Arriving in the office around 08:30, I usually catch up with my CEO over a coffee (another one!) for a quick run-down of the previous day’s highlights/lowlights and any planned meetings we need to align on/prepare for.

We then discuss any ongoing priorities that need to be focused on which may require input from others. I also typically spend the first hour or so catching up on any emails from the night before and checking my running ‘To-do’ list of urgent or important actions.

Most of our meetings are also typically in the morning but given we have a few international staff and investors; some tend to be early or late in the day. Beyond this, there is no typical day, which is why I love the world of a start-up/scale-up.

My day tends to range between ‘pitching’ to investors, sitting through project briefing sessions with our technical teams to preparing for partner presentations. I also try to squeeze in a lunch time run twice a week or so and once on the weekends which I find very meditative and helps me to de-stress.  

3) What does work-life balance mean to you and how do you work to achieve that goal?

WLB to me means ‘finding flow’ and personal wellbeing over time. Being ‘in flow’ to me is being in the moment and performing close to or at one’s peak for at least part of the day which leads to greater satisfaction in work AND life.

If we agree that at any given moment, there will always be several plates spinning and that some of which will inevitably be slipping and some even falling to the ground. This is perfectly normal and killing oneself to find the perfect balance is a myth and impossible expectation.

These could be work, family, leisure, health & wellbeing, faith, friends etc. The important thing is to remember what’s really ‘important’ in the long run and not to get too anxious about the ‘urgent’ stuff of others that often seem important but aren’t in the bigger scheme of things.  

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4) In the past 12 months, have you started or stopped any routines or habits to change your life?

I’ve also become a lot more aware and planned in relation to my personal wellbeing. Making sure I get enough rest, exercise, timeout and watching what I fill my mind and body with and importantly, having someone to support you through the inevitable challenges has become a much bigger focus for me personally as I’ve grown.

For example, I’ve started going to bed earlier and getting up 40 min earlier than I normally do to enjoy the morning moments while meditating. I’ve found this still time a real boost + the extra sleep has lifted my mood.

Also working from home a day a week – usually Wednesdays I find has boosted my productivity and morale and affords much greater flexibility. I’ve also sought to flexibly prioritise family time which for me looks like leaving the office by no later than 18:30, when not travelling for business, to share dinner with the family and be around for bedtime rituals.

5) Do you have any favourite books, podcasts or newsletters that you’d like to recommend?

I love listening to a mix of stuff – examples include Dan Carlin’s ‘Hardcore History’, Radio 4’ ‘The Infinite monkey cage’ and a few of my favourite bible teachers often on the way to work in the morning. Evening commute is usually a few chill-out beats on Spotify.

6) If you could read an interview about work-life balance by anyone, who would that be?

Gosh good question – perhaps someone like YouTube CEO Susan Wojcicki or Facebook’s COO, Sheryl Sandberg or Netflix CEO Reed Hastings

7) Do you have any last thoughts on work, life or balance that you’d like to share with our readers?

Like gold at the end of the rainbow, I believe ‘work-life balance’ is possibly a mythical ideal and is better thought of as ‘life-balance’ especially given work and life are often so intrinsically linked.

Also, given the average person will spend +90k hours at work or a third of their lives, waiting to live after one’s work (e.g., retirement) is a sad state of affairs. Finding something you enjoy doing will likely result in you being good at it and bring even greater fulfilment.

And provided it’s something society values, it is very likely you’ll be well rewarded and be able to meet your material needs doing it. Learning to flexibly prioritise personal wellbeing (which will be different for everyone and over different life stages) while operating ‘in flow’ for at least part of the day, I’ve found to be a good means to an end rather than an end in itself (i.e., ‘life-balance’).

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About Author

Hey there! I'm Hao, the Editor-in-Chief at Balance the Grind. We’re on a mission to showcase healthy work-life balance through interesting stories from people all over the world, in different careers and lifestyles.